Kira Young moved in 2000 from Gary, Ind., to Minneapolis to join relatives and pursue better job prospects.
Young was an Army veteran and a job-hungry single mom with no idea that, 20 years later, she and a daughter would be trailblazers.
Young initially landed a clerical job for $7 an hour. After seeing an ad for bus drivers, Young took a $14-an-hour job at Metro Transit. Bus driving became a career, with good benefits and pay raises. She raised two daughters, who both went on to graduate from college.
“I didn’t like being stuck in an office,” said Young, a gracious woman with a ready smile. “I liked being a driver. I enjoy people.”
Sometimes on weekends, Kadejah Young, 26, her oldest, would ride along with her mom. Kadejah, a 2012 Minneapolis Roosevelt High School graduate, was a good student and the Minneapolis Conference MVP in basketball. She did her mom proud in class and on court.
Kadejah graduated from William Penn University in Iowa in 2016. She also played basketball and worked for a year in athletics after graduation.
When it was time for a new challenge, she returned to the Twin Cities. She had a yen for the transportation trade.
“I had been exposed to transit and I always thought it was cool to be inside the bus garage, with all the activity,” recalled Kadejah, who sometimes would ride her mom’s No. 5 route from Bloomington to Brooklyn Center. “Buses, drivers, mechanics. A lot of activity.”
Kadejah was accepted into Metro Transit’s technician program, a three-year academic-and-apprenticeship regimen.
It’s offered by Metro Transit in partnership with Hennepin Technical College.
It runs from apprenticeship to a full-time mechanic job with Metro Transit that can pay up to $32 an hour after several years.
“I like learning new stuff,” Kadejah Young said. “It challenged me. My schedule started at 6 a.m. daily. And it was a 12-hour day. School and work. It was physically and mentally challenging.”
Kira, after 16 years as a driver, had moved into the garage to become a “fueler,” which involves checking fluids and tires on buses that need to roll every day.
“Kadejah was coming home to talk about parts and things like a ‘bellow suspension’ that I knew nothing about,” Kira Young recalled.
Charlotte Andres, a supervisor at the Heywood garage north of downtown, suggested Kira investigate the same technical-training program and degree that Kadejah was pursuing.
“I always wanted to go to college,” Kira said. “Kadejah and my younger daughter went to college. This program allowed me to earn a degree and skills I could use at my company. I was able to gain deeper knowledge. And our mechanics help each other.”
The three Young women all graduated within the last year from two-year state university programs.
Kira and Kadejah Young work out of Metro Transit’s 90-mechanic maintenance facility and bus garage on the East Side of St. Paul.
Matt Dake, a veteran mechanic and Metro Transit’s director of bus maintenance, called the Youngs hard workers and good colleagues with a commitment to public transit. They also are trailblazers among a growing number of female and minority mechanics.
“Metro Transit needs highly skilled technicians and eligible applicants need access to better-paying jobs and opportunities,” Dake said.
Indeed, the growth at Metro Transit and in the Twin Cities workforce, generally, has come increasingly over the last decade from minorities and immigrants.
Their population is outpacing overall population growth and the employment market, according to state statistics.
Dake noted that the transit system has to compete with vehicle dealerships that tend to pay more to mechanics.
Many dealers use a commission-based system that encourages mechanics to work quickly, but that can also lead to burnout, said Dake, who started as a Los Angeles car-dealer mechanic before joining that city’s public-transit authority.
“There is more demand for mechanics at Metro Transit and elsewhere than supply. In fact, 56 of Metro Transit’s 250 technicians have at least 25 years of service and are expected to retire within several years,” Dake said.
Since 2015, 29 people have graduated from Hennepin Tech to full-time Metro Transit jobs.
“Transit’s been good to my family,” Kira Young said.